Baseball’s beat writers have a tough gig. It’s not easy logging hours in press boxes, chasing quotes in the club house, or coming up with unique angles on subjects that have been handled millions of times before. And to make matters worse, it’s a relatively thankless duty as well.
Any time you come up with something original, collect an actually interesting quote or write a game story that doesn’t amount to clichéd rancour, it’s immediately appropriated by someone like me, more often than not for purposes of mockery. If not, it’s dismissed outright by someone so knowledgeable on the subject that they didn’t even have to read the story in order to express an opinion about it.
I appreciate beat writers, what they do and the guff with which they put up. It’s not easy, and for the most part, they work hard to produce content and do well in bearing with the reactions that their writing receives.
However, I don’t understand certain habits among these earthbound creatures when it comes to social media. What is this seemingly innate urge that the beat writer has for using Twitter to provide play-by-play of baseball games to their followers. With live blogs, MLB Gameday, and a myriad of sports websites and applications all providing as-it-happens coverage, does anyone actually use Twitter to follow the pitch-by-pitch occurrences of a baseball game.
Seriously, is there anyone in the entire world that depends on the tweets of others to follow baseball games?
This is a question that had haunted me since the first two out single was tweeted about by a reporter. So, a couple of weeks ago, I requested a short leave of absence from my duties at The Score to follow up on a lead and search for the only person on earth who uses Twitter for play-by-play. Just before I made my request, a source knowledgeable of my curiosity in these matters, contacted me about a man living in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, who had long been rumored by locals to only follow beat writers on Twitter as a means of learning what was happening with each evening’s baseball games.
I receive dozens of such tips every week, and while most are obvious red herrings, this one stood out for it’s detail and lack of exaggeration. It seemed like the genuine article, and so I packed up the car and left in pursuit of the most unlikely of stories.
The man had lived in the rundown rental house for almost three years when someone first saw an iPad in the window. A man, pale, with dark eyes, shuffled past the broken glass and peered out with a tablet of some sort tucked under his arm, one neighbor remembered.
Everyone knew that a man lived in the house, but they had never seen a computer there before, had never noticed anyone who might be a baseball fan, let alone one who followed along through social media. For the briefest of moments, the iPad reflected light back on the voyeuristic neighbor, and then suddenly, like a headache stopping, slipped away. Months went by, and the computer screen never again appeared.
Then I showed up. Around noon on July 3rd, I pulled up outside that shattered window. I walked cautiously, passing withered shrubbery while stepping on cracked concrete slabs seemingly placed in no particular order, leading to the front door. I convinced myself that I didn’t want to scare anyone inside, but the caution I exerted in every step up the woe begotten path was in reality a reflection of the fear I felt as I made my way.
Moments later, I’d be clutching my stomach, retching in into the weeds that surrounded the dead shrubs.
As the man who lived in the house opened the door to answer my knock, a gust of foul odor left the house like evil spirits escaping the confines of eternal damnation. They found a new host in my nasal passages and took up immediate residence. I wanted to approach with humility to ask about using Twitter for play-by-play, but I could no longer be polite in the company of the maggoty fumes that corrupted the insides of my body.
I vomited. I vomited again. And I vomited again. I vomited so much in such little time that my body became used to the practice and even though there was nothing left to expunge from my system I continued to go through the motions involuntarily.
After emptying the contents of my stomach, I walked through the front door, into a cramped living room. I’m not sure there is a metaphor to describe it. Urine and feces — dog, cat and human excrement — smeared on the walls, mashed into the carpet.
Everything dank and rotting. Tattered curtains, yellow with cigarette smoke, dangling from bent metal rods. Cardboard, old comforters and flags of nations that no longer existed stuffed into broken, grimy windows. Trash blanketing a stained chesterfield, the sticky faux-marble counter tops. The sound of roaches being crushed beneath my feet, as though I was walking on eggshells.
It was something that a set designer for horror films might envision during a particularly disagreeable nightmare.
And there in the middle of it all was Clarence Graham, a spindly and oily old man, whose filth might only be appropriate as an extra on the set of There Will Be Blood. It was obvious that he wasn’t used to human interaction, as he depended much more on gestures and grunts than fully formed words. Although he understood my questions perfectly, our communication was hindered by my interpretation of his expressions in answering these questions.
It took several warm ups to get to the single question that I wanted to ask, but before he answered I knew it was so. Before I had even uttered a single word to this pathetic creature, I knew he was the one. In fact, I wondered if somehow I knew all along that Mr. Graham was here, and that in some way his very existence had prompted me to search for the only man in the world who depended on Tweets to follow along with baseball games.
Still, I needed audible confirmation, and as I asked if he was on Twitter, it became what I imagine others describe as an outer body experience. I had no control over myself, my relationship with my body became as though I was watching the protagonist of a film.
Through grunts, charade like hand motions and a mixture of words whose meanings were only understood in the context of the other bits of communication he offered, I understood that he was on Twitter. He showed me his iPad and the installed bit of software on the machine which was limited to TweetDeck. As he showed me how he follows along, it dawned on me that not only was Mr. Graham’s knowledge of baseball events restricted to what was tweeted about, his entire understanding of the game was dependent on it.
He had never seen the game. The descriptions offered to him via Twitter didn’t provoke images of events actually taking place. The descriptions were the descriptions alone. And they were sufficient for his fandom, which I’m not sure is a fair word to use in describing what his relationship to the actual events that acted as a catalyst for what he read. He wasn’t a fan in the sense that you and I were. He didn’t live vicariously through what happened on the field. I doubt he’d even recognize a baseball logo, let alone an actual player.
The lines of information he received through Twitter – the double plays, the sacrifice bunts, the bases on balls – it all came to him in a confluence of information that represented nothing other than the words themselves. This was baseball to him: Lines of text popping up on a tablet from the dank and dirty surroundings of his disgusting abode.
As I departed, the significance of my discovery dawned on me. I had sought out the person who got his or her baseball play-by-play information through Twitter partly for the purpose of enlightening them to other, and what I considered to be better, forms of information relaying, but it turns out it was Mr. Graham who enlightened me.
He showed me that we all see the game differently, and so it should come as no surprise that we might use varying methods for receiving sight of the game. One isn’t superior or more genuine than the other. My eyes while watching a game are just as biased as the words that Mr. Graham reads from what I would’ve called his primitive surroundings before meeting him.
There is no high or low in baseball. No right or wrong. There are only languages that people of like minds and like understandings use to communicate. We get out of it what we want, and we enjoy aspects that we choose to enjoy. Baseball is there. It occurs in many forms because many take it in … all in a unique fashion, just like Mr. Graham.